Thursday, March 28, 2013

Steve Martin is from Waco

Five years ago, I recognized the origin of a stranger's 801 area code and she knew what an 805 area code said about me and almost immediately we were friends. I was, at the time, living in a 312 area code, and she was in the 202, but we met for the first time in 314. Now I live with the good people of 214 and she's joined the ranks of the 313. In honor of our anniversary, I would like to share with all of you something she was recently so kind as to share with me. From a Michigander, with love: "50 Sure Signs That Texas is Actually Utopia." If that sounds overwhelming, perhaps you will be satisfied just knowing that Steve Martin is one of ours.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Junk Mail

If I never left the apartment (and as a writer who works from home, this is an actual possibility on more days than I'd care to admit), if I never made it any further than the bank of mailboxes two giant steps away from my apartment's threshold, I would know the city. I would know Dallas by its junk mail.

Nowhere else I've lived has so distinguished itself through the things I throw away. I largely ignore the pulpy curl of of circulars, but the postcards are full of invitations. Any number of establishments would like the pleasure of whitening my teeth. More than a few churches would like me to drop by. I was particularly enchanted by a house of worship that was offering Saturday services in consideration of the marathon that routes through the neighborhoodpartly to bless the runners, and partly because Sunday parking, what with the road closures and all, would surely entice a person to take the lord's name in vain.

And though I tend to think of the neighborhood as chock-full of schools, every so often I get a governmental postcard advising me a sex offender has taken up residence somewhere nearby. It's such an intimate thing to be on the back of bulk rate mail: the picture and home address of someone I don't even know.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day

The only fire-breather I know lives in Texas. Also, the only woman I've ever met who didn't know she was pregnant until the baby was crowning. Also, the only person I know who owns an air cannon for the specific purpose of launching tee-shirts into a crowdthis person, too, lives in Texas.

I mention the last because Texas loves itself a St. Patrick's Day celebration. In Chicago, I never questioned the parades and the river dyed green, but the first time Dustin and I tried to take the light rail to the movie theater and found ourselves pressed among revelers in varying states of inebriation and Leprechaun-inspired costuming, I was unprepared.

I was also unprepared, a year later, when friends invited us down to the beach and we saw them next as pirates on a parade float, the green of green beads rubbing off on their sweaty necks, the pirates throwing more of the same to the outstretched hands lining the parade route, and from the prow of the boat twirling the ends of green feather boas. I had, until then, been most charmed by the golf cart resurfaced for the parade in an armor of green Solo cups, but upon seeing us, waiting as we were at the end of the route, our friends the pirates jumped off their pirate boat float and walked us back to the beach housebut only after the last green tee-shirt was launched, not at the boy yelling for it and standing close enough to take the apparel projectile point-blank in the chest, but over him, deeper into the crowd, the cannon launcher aiming towards us and connecting instead with the woman in front of us, who grasped the shirt in her green-painted fingernails and jumped up and down.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My Crush on Winston Churchill

In January the Dallas Museum of Art did something museums almost never do: it gave up charging for general admission. Since then, Dustin and I have been dropping in most weekends. We have learned the difference between American Art and Art of the Americas (no ceramics of two people joined by a common third leg in the former, no almost presidential bedroom sets in the latter). We have learned you can make a chair out of plush pandas. We have learned there is no adhesive holding together the cubic meter of toothpicks, that if you pay attention they are slowly, slowly falling loose.

We have learned galleries intersect in surprising, nonlinear ways, a gentle maze with myriad possible solutions. And shortly before I learned that "Water Spaniel Confronting a Heron" is an actual title to an actual painting, Dustin and I walked out of Japanese gallery, a hallway really, and stumbled into the Reves Collection: a celebration of decorative arts staged in a multi-room recreation of the Mediterranean estate Wendy and Emery Reves bought from its original owner, Coco Chanel. The guest room with its scores of black lacquered furniture and chairs with animal skin prints is bewildering. Why the pairs of shoes on the carpet? Why the lace and the place settings displayed on the facing wall?

We were feeling a bit more oriented by time we found ourselves looking in on the living room. "You can't go in," Dustin kept whispering, each time a bit more agitated. "You can't go in!" And of course we couldn't enter this recreation of a room meant entirely to receive guests. So we leaned over the barrier just enough to get a better look at the closer Renoirs, the near Seurat, and gave up on a dozen other paintings as too distant across the great room to admire.

I was, by then, working myself up about this collection. Museums have an understandably hard time saying no to donations, and while that may not have happened here, it would explain the disporporitonate amount of space accorded to, say, the nation of Japan versus the personal collection of an Dallas-born model from and the man she married after a twenty year acquaintance. I am probably just grouchy there's not more explanation to contextualize all these rooms and why they are here, when I wander into an alcove of Winston Churchill memorabilia. Churchill was a favorite guest at the estate, painting the twisting trees of the coast, going for walks. He sent letters and telegrams to the lady of the house, apologized for having "vexed" her. And I found myself softening, charmed at the whimsy of Churchill including the name of his parakeet, Toby, in the dedicating of a book holding a few of the bird's feathers between the pages. I was totally undone and won over after discovering a slip of paper, the size of a cocktail napkin, on which the dinner guests had been asked to draw their self-portraits for a parlor game. Churchill won the prize for finishing first, and he won it with a truly charming sketch of a pig. 

Monday, March 4, 2013


With Dustin home sick, we spent part of the weekend catching up on Texas cinema. Now with Dustin on the mend, I would like to share the highlights of our research:

1. "Bernie" is a fine film, which I love for this scene more than any other. But I feel kind of bad that, without any previous prejudice, I now want to refer to Houston as the "Carcinogen Coast."

2. Who knew "Reality Bites" was set in Houston? And, for its time, it features a truly Texas-saavy reference to the Austin-born grocery chain Whole Foods. Twenty years later, as a perky checker with bright blue hair rings up my loaf of Seeduction Bread at the Whole Foods near us, I have to agree with the film's observation that Ethan Hawke would not have been hired.